January is designated as National Radon Action Month by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. The Darien Health Department, in cooperation with the Connecticut Department of Public Health, has joined in this national effort to bring awareness of this important topic to the attention of the general public and to the citizens of Darien.

Radon is an invisible, odorless and tasteless radioactive gas which is formed from the radioactive decay of radium and uranium that occur naturally in bedrock worldwide. Radon is measured in units of radioactivity in both air and water as "picocuries per liter" (pC/L). Higher concentrations are possible near certain types of bedrock (granite, shale) that have higher uranium content. Test data suggest that such higher concentrations occur sporadically in all parts of the state. The only way to know if you have an indoor radon problem is to test your home.

The Surgeon General has warned that exposure to elevated radon levels in indoor air is a leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers. While exposure to radon does not cause any immediate noticeable symptoms, long term exposure to high levels is thought to increase a person's risk with any adverse affects taking up to thirty years to develop. Because radon does not have an odor, one may not know if he or she is exposed. Therefore, all homes should be tested and action should be taken to reduce high levels if they exist.

Radon is drawn into the home through cracks and other openings (e.g. sump pits) in the foundation. Radon levels are commonly much higher in winter months so that is when testing should be done. As a result, and as a public service, free test kits are now available in limited supply at the Darien Health Department, Darien Town Hall, weekdays between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.. Instructions and fact sheets accompany the kits which are provided with an accompanying postage-free mail-in envelope.

The Health Department encourages all residents to have your homes tested.

"It's free and it's easy it's the right thing to do, for your kids, and for you," said David Knauf, Darien's director of health. "Remember, most individuals remain in their homes long after the children have `flown the coop.'"